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Published February 11, 2010

I adore the Street Fighter series, and the fourth installment was no exception, but when was the last time a Capcom game really surprised me? Though the company is renowned for its coin-op fighters, it’s also infamous for recycled sprites and low-res presentations. After the Fighting Evolution nadir, Street Fighter IV was a return to form, but I was still a little disappointed by how familiar it felt. 3D or not, we’ve thrown enough hadoukens over the years; SFIV is excellent but very safe. Tatsunoko vs. Capcom on the Wii is anything but. Capcom’s taking a huge gamble on Nintendo’s family-friendly box here. I don’t know if it will pay off financially, but it’s a welcome change from the usual World Warriors.

When TvC first hit Japanese Wiis, I think it was assumed by many that the game would never reach our shores. While the Tatsunoko licensing was pretty straightforward over there, their distribution rights were held by several different companies stateside. It didn’t help matters that characters like Tekkaman and Casshan don’t have the built-in fanbase that Wolverine and Spider-man enjoy. It would have been heartbreaking to see the next entry in a beloved fighting series stuck in Japan, but Capcom decided to place its bets on the quality of the fighting engine. Hooray for us!

The core premise doesn’t stray to far from what we’re seen before, but a few tweaks make it more approachable for newcomers. TvC uses a simplified version of the six-button standard control setup. Rather than having three types each of punches and kicks, you now have light, medium and strong attacks. A fourth button calls in an assist attack or tags in your partner. The consolidation was a necessary concession for Wii owners playing with remotes, but most of the depth was retained. Capcom really got as much out of Wii’s controllers as it could possibly muster. Special moves are mapped to every possible joystick-button combination. It’ll take some adjusting for veterans, but the changes here were for the best.

The more significant departure is in the character lineup itself. Both MvC2 and Capcom vs. SNK 2 featured gargantuan rosters, and the balancing and individual personalities of each fighter suffered for it. TvC strikes a much better balance. There are 25 playable characters, and none of them are palette swaps; they’re completely unique in both looks and move-sets. In fact, the most exciting thing about the roster is that most of these characters have never set foot in a fighting arena before.

More than half of Capcom’s side is new to this genre. Some faces may seem familiar, like Megaman Legend‘s Volnutt, but he plays completely differently from previous Megamen. Newcomers like Saki and Viewtiful Joe fit in perfectly, too (even if the former’s relevance is questionable). That said, I had even more fun playing as the Tatsunoko gang. All of the characters, from yo-yo swinging Jun the Swan to Doronjo’s three stooges, are colorful and fun to use. Only the experimental giant characters, the Lost Planet mech and Lego-fied Gold Lightan, are clunkers.

The long trek to America was entirely worth it, as I couldn’t imagine the game without its five secret characters. Zero’s a fan favorite and Frank West from Dead Rising can toss out zombies into the playing field at will, creating a unique tactical advantage as long as he doesn’t caught in their grasp himself. Tekkaman Blade is the big Tatsunoko standout for me; His…uh…non-Blade counterpart is cool, but the new version fast footwork make him (it?) a lot of fun to use.

The extra localization time was also used to add online fighting. The last Wii fighter I played with online multiplayer was Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and I think we all know how that turned out. So does this work better? Yes, definitely. There’s still occasional lag and the usual Nintendo gripes – no communication, friend codes – but you also have unlockable ranks, icons and leaderboards. Not great, but it’s a welcome addition.

While this probably won’t gain much traction online – again, it’s a Wii title – it could possible become a tournament favorite. There are some minor balancing issues, but nothing that MvC enthusiasts aren’t used to by now. Either way, fighting games don’t come slicker than Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, and if you’ve been begging for a hardcore experience for the Wii, it’s time to put your quarters where your mouth is.

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